Volume 73, Number 50 | April 21 - 27, 2004

FILM


Four-hundred films in two days

By JERRY TALLMER

Four hundred films — 400 screenings — in two days. Four hundred! Might as well call it the Preposterous Film Festival. Actually it’s Arlene’s Grocery Picture Show, and in this, its fourth year, it sets five venues aglow on the Lower East Side from Friday, April 23, through Monday, April 26.

“For the first two weeks of the first year we called it the Crappy Film Festival, had that on posters and everything “ says Dave Hollander, the broad-shouldered 21st-century mini-Renaissance man who with Owen Comiskey, manager of Arlene’s Grocery, the bar and music joint at 95 Stanton Street, invented this cinematic mass shindig in 2001.

Hollander and Comiskey had got talking about films and filmmakers. “Owen said: ‘All these people work so hard and put so much money into their films and nobody even wants to show them. Let’s do a film festival open to all.’

“The first year we had 80 submissions, and,” says Hollander, “I thought that was a lot. The second year, 120 submissions. Last year, 160, and this year I said: ‘Let’s open it up,’ and now we have 400 movies from all over, Des Moines, the Dakotas, everywhere.”

Attendance at everything is free.

“A core principle. And it only costs five bucks to submit your film. We’re not puffing ourselves up as experts,” says Hollander. “ ‘This is a good film . . . this is a bad film.’ It’s kind of like homeroom assignment in high school: Whatever the entry, it’s put up on the board. Owen has a very succinct philosophy: ‘Art? I don’t care for it.’”

Comiskey has this year shrunk his functions to that of host, so stepping in to co-direct the jampacked weekend is filmmaker Mark Foster. “Mark is chronologically 32, with the soul-growth age of a Buddha.”

The shortest entry of all the 400 is probably a 15-second work by Joe Renz, a member of the Brooklyn film collective Reel Sweet Betty. “It’s an untitled piece, but we’re calling it ‘Ray Gun.’ Deals with domestic miscommunication. Fifteen seconds is about all you need for domestic miscommunication.”

Hollander isn’t sure what’s the longest 2004 entry, but thinks it may be Karl Simpson Hurley’s “Dissident” — “a sort of ‘Gorky Park meets ‘The Parallax View.’ “Highlight films spotted here and there throughout the four days and nights are:

“Eulogy,” directed by Deverill Weeks, an “onanistic experimental short” written by Gary Oldman, starring him and Roseanna Arquette.

“Stolen Childhoods,” a Len Morris documentary about child-labor abuse, narrated by Meryl Streep.

“Dream Lover,” directed by Anthony DiSalvo, and what the hero loves is movies.

“The Age of Innocence,” Jimmy Picker’s much-praised claymation farce about the men, women, serpents, sex organs, the Garden of Eden, etc. (but unless you can tolerate animation — I can’t — it may bore the diapers off you).

“Schiller’s Reel.” John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray et al. in 19 vintage clips from Tom Schindler’s collection of 25 years of “Saturday Night Live.”

“Being Ron Jeremy” — the porn superstar — directed by Brian Berke.

“Mau Mau Sex Sex,” Ted Bonnit’s documentary on veteran indy filmmakers Dan Sonney, 84, and David Friedman, 76.

“Xaviera: Still Happy,” on the life and times of Happy Hooker and Penthouse columnist Xaviera Hollander — no relation to David Hollander, but a good friend of his all the same. Directed by her and Robert Dunlap.

“Learned” and “The Message.” Two shorts, about 8 minutes each, one on all the ugly racist/sexist words Lenny Bruce drove into the ground for our benefit 40 years ago, the other a man’s-callousness-to-woman telephone interlude with a wicked O’Henry twist.

On opening night the writer and actor Wallace Shawn will, says Hollander, “get our Thalberg equivalent, the Rockets Red Glare Award for independent achievement.” Closing night — “We hold it on Mondays, just like the Oscars but we call it the Groceries, and give out Pigeon Peas” — contains a showing of Jesse Friedman’s ‘Jesse’s Last Night’ (before he went to prison).

Scheduled presenters include Joe Jackson, Albert Maysles, John Caneron Mitchell, Michael Musto, and Ron Palillo.

Dave Hollander was born “in the hills of Sussex County, New Jersey,” on November 30, 1964, “the same birthday as David Mamet and Terrence Malick” (different year, however). He is or has been a producer of free summer concerts at the Lower East Side Amphitheater, a creator of album covers on MTV-2, a professional fund raiser, an attorney by trade, co-author of a best-selling guide to law schools in America, and an ongoing interviewer of such as Lawrence Taylor, Vince Carter, Dwight Gooden, Larry Holmes, and Michael Ray Richardson for Sports Express Weekly.

With all that, his heart is in Arlene’s Picture Show. “Really a hell of a lot of work — a blessing, though.” Of course you do have to force yourself to sit through things like a 5-minute documentary study of 50 different female nipples.

This year’s venues are Arlene’s Grocery, 95 Stanton Street; Loisaida CafÇ, 153 Rivington Street; Lotus CafÇ, 35 Stanton Street; Earth Matters, 177 Ludlow Street; and Pink Pony, 178 Ludlow Street. For all other details call (212) 353-3315, or hit www.arlene-grocery.com/.

“It’s now a substantial New York City institution,” says Dave Hollander. “A Lower East Side event.” At the moment he happens to live on the Upper West Side. But he still scanned all, or most, of those 400 movies. Give that man a can of Pigeon Peas.

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